The nine states challenging Microsoft in the antitrust case are pressing for access to Windows source code so they can demonstrate that certain Windows features can be removed without crippling Windows as an operating system. They’ll press for a version of Windows without Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, and Windows Media Player, allowing manufacturers to include other products in their place on new systems.

Here’s an interesting article by David Coursey – an old hand who is very knowledgeable about the industry, and not at all a Microsoft zealot. His thoughts:

“What would happen if Windows became more of just an operating system and less of a feature-rich computing platform? How would the marketplace react?

“This less-filling, less-calories Windows Lite operating system would, presumably, be offered to PC hardware manufacturers. The OEMs could use it to differentiate their PCs by creating an almost Microsoft-free desktop. . . .

“Of course, there’s a big downside–for all of us. If the PC companies go too far afield, they risk eroding the Windows standard that has done so much to universalize the personal computing experience. Out-of-the-box thinking may be a good thing, but only in small doses. The chaos that could result from an unbundled Windows might do customers a lot more harm than good.

“I’ve yet to see the feds make any real case that Microsoft left consumers any worse off. There is a misguided notion that somehow consumers would be much better off had Netscape not suffered at Microsoft’s hand. Or that we’d be that much closer to computing nirvana had Microsoft failed to weave so many features into its operating systems.

“Well, I was there. And Netscape would have succumbed regardless. The reason? Microsoft did more for customers–not more to them. What happened to Netscape–and remember, it was Netscape’s misfortune that got this case started–isn’t any different than what has happened throughout the PC industry’s history.

“The idea of bringing additional elements into the operating system as a way to provide more value isn’t Microsoft’s concept alone. Does anyone remember the days when you had to buy–and install–memory cards, serial cards, modem cards, terminal adapter cards, and Ethernet adapters? How about sound cards and multimedia kits?

“All these products used to be big business. This PC aftermarket shriveled when the hardware OEMs started adding all these components into the base package. Why did PC makers embrace this route? Gee, because it was easier for customers and, yes, it allowed them to obtain incremental revenues that otherwise might have gone directly to component makers. Did PC prices go up because of this? Don’t make me laugh.

“Apparently, this sort of industrial Darwinism is just fine when applied across an industry by one group of companies taking out another. But when a single company does this–Microsoft, in our example–it becomes a federal case. . . .

“Customers like the Windows bundle, and I hope it doesn’t go away. Having a browser brought into the operating system is no different than building modems into new PCs. Both are excellent ways to serve–not screw–consumers. Microsoft’s bundling, which hasn’t cost customers a cent, has brought tremendous value to computing and made the widespread adoption of Internet technology possible. And for this Microsoft deserves praise, not scorn.”